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SONIC REDUCER Starved for ideas? Dirt cheap, down to your last slice of cheese pizza and Harley beer, and still deeply smitten with fuzz-swathed guitars, ruttin' rhythms, and a complete dearth of chops?
Desperate times call for rotten but still somewhat respectful measures, according to Chris Owen, former Guardian music ad maestro, ex–Killer's Kiss kingpin, Hook or Crook label head cootie, and everlasting primordial rock fan. When the time came to name Budget Rock Showcase, the garage-punk onslaught of a music fest that Owen birthed five years ago with ex–Guardian columnist and onetime Parkside booker John O'Neill, they turned to the best: ye olde SF garage rock upenders the Mummies.
"We took the name from the back of a Mummies record, a picture of the Mummies that says 'Budget Rock Showcase' on their hearse or station wagon. We thought it was the perfect name for a festival of these bands," recalled Owen from Gris Gris leader Greg Ashley's digs, where they're working on a 7-inch of Ashley's pre-Mirrors high school combo, the Strate Coats. In response, the Mummies have been, um, fairly mum. "They're pretty nonplussed that we decided to appropriate that. I get the feeling that doing some kind of organized, highfalutin thing is not necessarily what they're into."
Well, their tacit agreement was all Owen needed to pick up the fest he abandoned after the first year with a bit of booking help from friends such as O'Neill, ex–Parkside booker John Pool, and Stork Club bar manager-booker Lance Hill. Known for giving Comets on Fire one of their first Bay Area shows and drawing the underage Black Lips from across the country and later lauded for bringing in Beantown's highly combustible Lyres, Budget Rock leaves Thee Parkside for the first time and celebrates its fifth year at the Stork. "It probably wouldn't have happened if I didn't do it this year," Owen said while scarfing pizza with Ashley ("the food that fuels Budget Rock!"). "No one got off their ass to do it."
So what is this crazy, impecunious thing called Budget Rock? "All the bands fall under a couple different rubrics," Owen said. "Real traditional garage bands like Omens and Original Sins. I tend to like noisier In the Red stuff, but Budget Rock is supposed to be about Bay Area bands that are descended from great bands like Supercharger, the Mummies, Rip Offs, and Bobbyteens." Of snarly note — besides the magnifico, malignant Original Sins (Brother JT's original garage unit, which hasn't played the Bay in more than a decade) — are fest first-timer Ray Loney, the Sneaky Pinks, the Mothballs, the Traditional Fools, Legendary Stardust Cowboy, and the Okmoniks (one of several acts to have played every fest).
With the mainstream pop scene's own appropriation of garage rock now petering to a close and disappearing from car commercials and the demise of such fests as Garage Shock, Owen can safely say that Budget Rock is one of the few of its die-hard kind, along with Goner fest in Memphis and Horizontal Action's Chicago Blackout. Original garage lovers can all breathe a sigh of relief now — and enjoy the grease in peace. "You can spot a band that's trying to make it a mile away," Owen said.
"It's like when you hear the Strokes, and they promote themselves as the Velvet Underground," Ashley interjected. "They kind of do sound like them but like the worst songs on the last album rather than the best songs off the first album."
This will likely be the first and last time Budget Rock will pick pockets at the Stork because Hill is moving on after failing to buy the joint — word has it he has looked into the old Golden Bull space too. But then, that's the way this breed of untamed raw-k shakes down.
JOAN OF OURS A passing that came and went relatively unheralded Oct. 21: Runaways drummer Sandy West died after a lengthy tussle with lung cancer.
Yet it's not too late to lay down your respect to Joan Jett, who plays San Francisco on Nov. 4 and has said after West's passing, "I started the Runaways with Sandy West. We shared the dream of girls playing rock ’n' roll. Sandy was an exuberant and powerful drummer. So underrated, she was the caliber of John Bonham. I am overcome from the loss of my friend. I always told her we changed the world."
Jett is still out to change the world, it seems, when I spoke to her recently from her tour bus shortly before West's death. Her new album, Sinner, on her own Blackheart Records, had just come out, and she was psyched about its politically and spiritually oriented material. After chatting about the Warped Tour ("I had my BMX bike and rode around from stage to stage checking out as much music as I could") and producing the first Germs LP for her friend Darby Crash ("We got serious for about four days and probably as un-fucked-up as we could be and went in there and made a great record"), Jett got in one last push for rocking women like herself and West.
"I think the environment for women is just as bad now [as when I started Blackheart Records]," she said. "In fact, I think it's even more dangerous because there's this illusion of equality, when in fact, that's not the case at all. Girl bands can't seem to get above that successful club level, then they run into that glass ceiling thing." SFBG
JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS
Sat/4, 9 p.m.
805 Geary, SF
1131 Polk, SF
BUDGET ROCK SHOWCASE
2330 Telegraph, Oakl.